Santa Rosa equity plan identifies improvements in recruitment, workplace culture

While the recommendations largely are focused on improving workplace culture, city leaders hope it will also reflect in how employees interact with residents in the community.|

An employee-led effort to ensure equal treatment and opportunities for all Santa Rosa city employees returned 30 recommendations for how the city can improve equity, diversity and belonging within City Hall.

The proposals, part of an equity plan presented to the City Council on Tuesday, included expanding recruitment efforts to historically underrepresented groups to diversify the hiring pool. Other recommendations called for addressing inequities in opportunities for promotions and developing practices to address isolation among workers.

The plan also called for creating various dashboards with recruitment and hiring statistics and other information to measure the city’s progress.

Overall, the goal is to create a more welcoming and supportive work environment for the city’s 1,629 employees, one of the largest municipal workforces in the Bay Area.

Improving workplace culture, city leaders hope, will also reflect in how employees interact with residents in the community.

Mayor Natalie Rogers, presiding over her first full council meeting since making history as the city’s first Black mayor, praised staff for their work and said she was encouraged by the plan.

Rogers said implementing the recommendations will show employees they’re being heard and that council members and city administrators value their opinions and respect the changes they want to see.

“I think the plan is great,” Rogers said in an interview Wednesday. “To me, one of the most positive takeaways is that it gives our employees a voice that they feel has been missing for a long time.”

The recommendations are the culmination of two years of work launched in late 2020 after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police on Memorial Day that year sparked local demonstrations and renewed pressure on Santa Rosa leaders to address a host of civil rights issues.

Santa Rosa will next create a cross-departmental committee that will prioritize the recommendations, work to implement and fund the proposals and ensure the plan moves forward long term. The city will also fill a vacant Diversity, Equity and Equal Employment Officer position created in 2020, who will work with the committee to implement the plan.

There was no estimate for the cost of launching the data dashboards and implementing other changes called for in the plan.

“By advancing the plan recommendations, Santa Rosa takes its place among a vanguard of municipalities creating belonging cities,” City Manager Maraskeshia Smith wrote in a report to the council. “I am excited for all of us to begin this important work, with the understanding that change takes time, and we are investing for the long term.”

Diversifying the workforce

Santa Rosa hired Inglewood-based consultant Seed Collaborative to help craft the equity plan.

The consultant held focus group meetings, one-on-one interviews with a cross section of city staff and community leaders and an employee survey that found respondents largely felt the city sees diversity and inclusion as important but was not taking concrete steps to make improvements.

Following that initial work, three task forces looked at equity issues across the organization, recruitment efforts in the fire department and how to achieve equitable policing to develop the recommendations.

Many of the recommendations across the workforce and specifically within the police and fire departments focused on diversifying the employee ranks and improving recruitment efforts to better reflect the changing demographics of the community.

Citywide employee demographic data showed nearly 69% of workers were white and 60% were male. Data from the police and fire departments, which face unique recruitment challenges, show there is even less race and gender diversity among public safety employees.

Recommendations include advertising for jobs and recruiting for positions through schools, civic groups, diverse community groups and online to reach more candidates, and ensuring that the applicant pool and finalists interviewed are representative of various demographic groups.

Many of the recommendations were also focused on reducing barriers to prospective candidates applying for jobs and in hiring.

The police and fire task forces suggested reviewing preemployment questionnaires and applications for potential bias.

The task forces also said the departments should review testing procedures, provide training to prospective applicants before they take job-required tests and provide local testing sites.

Community members also should be involved in the hiring process.

The fire department is already working on some of the efforts but more work is needed, Chief Scott Westrope said.

Westrope told the council that the department is not seeing a lot of diversity in the talent pool when it recruits for positions. The department plans to work with Santa Rosa Junior College and local organizations to “uplift people from within the community” to encourage them to apply, he said.

The department wants to hire two community outreach positions, with a preference for bilingual candidates, to help develop a recruitment plan, improve understanding of job requirements and reach prospective firefighters, he said.

Santa Rosa Police Chief John Cregan told the council that his department is continuing work on its pledge that 30% of all new hires will be women by 2030. There are 80 women in the department, according to data included in the plan.

They are also working with outside groups including Los Cien, the Latino leadership group, and the local chapter of the NAACP to reach diverse candidates.

The fire and police departments will each form a standing committee with employees from all ranks and leadership staff to review hiring and selection processes to evaluate for fairness, identify potential barriers and analyze hiring metrics.

Improving workplace culture

Once employees are hired, the task forces recommended improving a sense of belonging within City Hall, providing more resources to employees and ensuring that opportunities for job development and promotions are equal.

The task forces said the city should improve its policies and procedures related to welcoming new hires and revamp an employee mentorship program, which could make the transition for new employees easier.

Another idea included creating employee affinity groups so those with similar backgrounds and interests have opportunities to come together.

Opportunities for career development, training and internal promotions should be reviewed for equity.

The task forces also recommended developing and implementing standards and practices to improve employee morale and addressing worker isolation. Some of the suggestions including beefing up efforts to provide programs that support employees’ physical, mental and emotional health.

Better community engagement efforts

While the recommendations largely focused on making changes within City Hall, the groups also recommended improving how the city engages with residents.

The employee panels recommended that the city address potential language barriers that could prevent residents from being informed on city issues.

About 15 languages are spoken in Santa Rosa and 34% of the city’s population speaks a language other than English, said Beatriz Guerrero Auna, the city’s equity and public health planner.

More than 85% of those who speak another language speak Spanish and many are monolingual.

While the city has done a good job of providing information in Spanish and provides Spanish language interpretation during council meetings, the group recommended that departments identify and review public-facing documents that require translation.

Another recommendation was to develop a language access plan to ensure city information is accessible.

In addition to language barriers, information also should be easily digestible by all residents, regardless of education levels, age, background and access to and comfort with using technology.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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